Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Brain Injury Update, Two Months Later

Okay, here’s a blog post update on how I’m recovering since my bike accident! I’m sparing my FB feed from what would be a horribly long status update. Two months ago, April 9th, I was in the ICU after crashing my bike, losing consciousness, and having a tiny bit of bleeding in the brain (final diagnosis: minor traumatic brain injury). And here I am, June 9th, at the computer and heading to the studio this afternoon. I’m almost back to normal! Well, sort of. 🙂
Last week, my family lost my Aunt Eleanor. She battled intense asthma all her life. My heart hurts for my Uncle George and my cousins Rachel & Ruthie. They’ve already gone through so much as a family. Also in the past two months, my cousin Frankie has been in serious hospitalizations fighting his diabetes. I’m watching my cousins fight their battles courageously and I strive to do the same. I have a big amazing family. 
So, I’m not sure what normal is anymore. It’s not all bad, just different. Life can change so suddenly, instantaneously. It hasn’t been easy figuring out how to comport myself, between managing my limitations and understanding my capabilities. I was afraid I’d miss out on signs that I could do more and that I’d end up staying in bed for months on end when I didn’t need to. Turns out, I wasn’t too bad at estimating my limitations/ability status each day. As I get better, I can look back at how I was feeling before and confirm, yeah, it felt pretty bad. Some days, I am reminded exactly how it felt; I regress sometimes into dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Also, some things seem to have really changed neurologically. While I hope some of these changes are permanent (cool stuff!), I hope others heal up quick (less cool stuff).

  • I used to go to the studio several times a week, but I’ve only been back once since April, and that was just to pick up a few supplies. I haven’t used those supplies much, either. Oh well. I’m going back to the studio this afternoon, though! Who knows what I’ll make today. I don’t expect much, I only expect to play with my materials. I hope to at least have a check-in on what it’s like to have an art practice. I hope.
  • I can definitely say I’m more verbal than I used to be. I feel a little sorry for my old self; it wasn’t easy to have so many filters/inhibitions when attempting to say what I wanted to say! Even though some people might not know I was inhibited quite a bit, I credit how far I’d come as an adult to the ample amount of conversations & high level of engagement I’ve had with my best friends through the years (my friends have a tendency to insist on expressiveness.) Yet today, I can look back at my conversations from a few months ago, and know that I feel very different now. I just do. My former reservations really seem to have had a biological component to them, because ever since I got my head whacked, I’m quicker to say exactly what I intend to say. And I care less about if there are implications, especially if I mean what I say. I’m still empathetic and all that, but it feels less like I’m constrained by empathy, and more like I’m freed by it. Free to see others’ points of views, but not stifled in my own. If I got to age forty and still had those inhibitions before the head whacking accident, I can now have more compassion for the ingrained biological component to what makes us all the way we are, whether we are made of the stuff of mice or of lions.
  • This overflows into my Spanish speaking. I can speak Spanish more freely now! I can access the language and use it too. Maybe there was some barrier dislodged in my brain during that head trauma? 😉 I’ve yet to fully explore this, but initial observations are pointing to this being true. I definitely was more afraid in the past to make mistakes while speaking Spanish. Which is kind of a problem when working at improving language skills. See, I primarily spoke Spanish until age 5, so I’ve known the español was in there somewhere. Finally, I can use what I have. I think I’m well enough to start up my Spanish audio lessons again, that’s something I was doing a lot during commutes to/from the studio before the accident. Before now, I haven’t been able to do audio-only things (music, audio-books) so the lessons were out of the question. I still can’t listen to things while driving, but I look forward to working some spanish audio-lessons into my at-home life.
  • OK, another weird thing… anyone who knows me well would say this is a huge change: I like going on walks now, I might even like exercising. This began this past week as I’ve started being well enough to be active for over half an hour. Like, super active. I strap on my running shoes (when was the last time I wore those things?! I didn’t even used to like how they looked and didn’t want to wear them!). I head out the door for a determined walk. I see a hill, and I’m like: bring it! This is NOT like me, I repeat, NOT like me. If I have enjoyed a walk before now, it was because I was meandering slowly through a pretty place, taking in the view around me. It was a serene experience. I have several friends who walk together regularly, and it’s known that I only join them on rare occasions. And it’s not because I want to do the walk, it’s just more so that I can hang with them. I like sitting in nature. Not exercising in it! I’ve been known to occasionally get motivated for a one-off thing (like training for a metric century ride) (I still proudly wear the badge of having completed a 100K bike ride even though that was several years ago, only one time!), or a (very very!) brief boot-camp craze because I was trying to get healthy after having babies. Even the day I got into the bike accident in April, I wasn’t biking for exercise, I was getting images of bike riding on a beautiful day (!). I guess I whacked the part of my brain that involves motivation for exercise. So, me & exercising… we are apparently buddies now. We’ll see if this friendship lasts. I hope so!
  • The more I’ve been able to be physically active without many symptoms (the past two weeks), the less reflective I’ve become. I feel like I’m drying up. I’m reading less, I’m writing less, and I’ve barely touched the materials I brought home from the studio. Which is why I’m headed back to the studio today. I seemed to stay creative after my accident at first. I definitely felt that I stayed creative writing-wise after my accident. Beginning a week after being home from hospital, I blogged a lot AND I worked with my team to publish Issue #9 of ProWax Journal, AND I started up the self-directed #exMFA grad experience thing!– but now I feel like that part of me is emptied out, flat. And May 21 to June 2, I did write five entries (one, two, three, four, five!) as notes for the  #exMFA. But since June 2, since I’ve been up & moving & out + about, I’ve been less able to engage the part of my brain that thinks in abstract terms and creates visual or conceptual connections. Even as I write this, I feel that my language is plain and less reflective. I care enough about this to work at it, to not let this slip away from me… but, gladly, I also don’t care that I have a deficit that might be obvious to others. It’s kind of like the way that I’m not ashamed about the scar on the left side of my head. I’ll proudly own this state-of-being that I’m in today. It’s where I’m at. It’s me.
  • The more active I’ve gotten, the more words I’ve said wrong without even noticing. Like, I saw a pair of numbers (73) (a tied score during the first Warriors game in the championships) and I told my son, look it’s 33 to 33! I didn’t realize my mistake until my son pointed it out to me. It’s not just numbers related, either. I just say things wrong. As far as I know, this is a new thing as of the last two weeks, since I’ve been “getting better.” So, I’m not happy about this part, but it’s OK, it doesn’t seem to have serious implications.
  • Also as I return to normal, I’m realizing that it’s a new kind of normal. I still have limitations. I can begin my day forgetting the feelings of disability I’ve had, and I can go along with my life that day (i.e. I’ve been driving again for 2 weeks now!) and then it hits me: headache & nausea. So I return home. My day comes to a halt. My wellbeing each day depends on quality sleep; without it, I’m likely to hit a wall… Which is where I will leave this, since last night was a horrible night of sleep (we lost power in our neighborhood in out one day 100+ heatwave, the electric company was outside our house at midnight, my dogs were barking, and my youngest son came into my bed at maybe 4am, then a couple hours later I gave up and got up and here I am.) I still went on my walk coz I really wanted to (!!!). And I attended a middle-school awards ceremony (my kid got a peer nominated award for being Kind & Helpful!– how cool is that!– And also a teacher nominated award for excellence in Reading: analyzing literature, comprehending non-fiction texts, and contributing to an active learning environment! Love it!) And now after my boys’ school pickup, I’m headed to the studio, so help me God. My biggest accomplishment today may just be that I drive the 30 min (no traffic) there & then drive the 1 hour (commute traffic) back.

Wish me luck!

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